CASPER, Wyo. — Dr. Ed Zimmerman signed Washakie County’s public health order requiring adults to wear face coverings in public spaces on Nov. 18.
Days later, he was terminated as the county’s health officer. The Washakie County Commissioners voted on Monday to terminate his contract, Zimmerman said via Facebook.
The ability to issue public health orders in Wyoming lies with the state health officer. Wyoming Statue 35-1-240 (a) (iii) says that the state health officer has the power:
“To establish, maintain and enforce isolation and quarantine, and in pursuance thereof, and for such purpose only, to exercise such physical control over property and over the persons of the people within this state as the state health officer may find necessary for the protection of the public health
County health officers are under the direction and supervision of the Wyoming Department of Health, as stated in Wyoming Statute 35-1-227.
State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist signed the public health order mandating face coverings in Washakie County, thereby authorizing Zimmerman to issue the countywide order.
Zimmerman said on Monday that he believes the Washakie County Commissioners terminated him over the decision to issue the mask mandate.
“As many of you know, the County Commissioners were very unhappy with my decision to issue a Countywide mask mandate,” he wrote on Monday. “I am profoundly disappointed and personally feel that our County Commissioners have chosen politics over the safety of Washakie County residents while in the middle of a pandemic.”
Zimmerman said the reason county commissioners’ permission is not required in order for a health officer to issue a public health order is to help avoid the politicization of health matters.
“This system is in place to ensure that medical decisions for the county are not overruled by those in political office,” he said. “I did meet with the Commissioners for several hours to give them the scientific, medical, and epidemiologic reasoning why I felt that a mask mandate was absolutely necessary.”
Washakie County Commissioners Chair Fred Frandson told the Casper Star-Tribune that he could not discuss Zimmerman’s termination because it was a personnel matter, but said that it was not due to the mask mandate being issued.
Zimmerman said that he had served as the Washakie County health officer for 10 years and defended the decision to issue the mask mandate.
“I truly believe that ANY reasonable physician in the same situation would make the exact same decision regarding a mask mandate,” he wrote. “At this point, I believe everyone in Washakie County knows that masks are strongly recommended, yet VERY few followed the recommendations. I believe that a masking mandate will save several lives of Washakie County residents and I do not regret signing the mandate.”
“It appears to me that the masking mandate was overwhelmingly supported by the members of our community. I am so very thankful for the incredible support I have received from this wonderful community.”
Washakie County Sheriff Steven Rakness provided a message to the community on Friday regarding the mask mandate.
“We here at the Washakie County Sheriff’s Office and the Worland Police Department are not going to be the mask police, nor are we going to track people down for not wearing a mask,” he said. “However, we are going to ask everyone to use common sense, be respectful and abide by what local business or facilities have in place regarding the State Mandate to wear a mask.”
“We will enforce incidents involving Breach of Peace, Disorderly Conduct and Interference with a Peace Officer or issue no-trespassing orders to people if a business or facility requests that be done.”
Rakness said that law enforcement would most likely ask people to comply with the mask mandate rather than issuing citations.
“As far as businesses go, we may come and talk to you about the mandate, if we get some reports or complaints that the business(es) is not complying with the order,” he said.
Rakness said the goal is to prevent another shutdown of businesses as occurred in the spring.
“I don’t think we can weather another shutdown again,” he said. “I’m doing my best here to keep the Law Enforcement Center opened up and running, making sure County residents can utilize our services for background checks, finger-prints, concealed firearms permits and jail inmate visitation.”
“So please, help us help you. I know no one likes this, I don’t either, but we need to stop the spread of this virus and as of this writing, I’ve heard that more folks are sick, getting sick and/or have tested positive for the virus.”
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.